Musician Jack Mockett was registered blind from birth and diagnosed with autism aged six. But he is determined not to let this get in the way of his passion for music, writes Simon Cousins. Jack is currently studying Songwriting and Composition and you'll catch him gigging in Shrewsbury this August.
Jack Mockett’s long, slender fingers leap and dance the length of the keyboard.
His accuracy is mesmerising and unerring, quite astonishing because he plays everything from memory. He pours his heart into every performance, be it pop, soul, jazz or classical. His feel for the instrument is beguiling.
This is even more amazing when you meet Jack and discover that he was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 6 years.
And that he has been totally blind from birth.
But Jack is a fighter, and a survivor.
“Being born blind has been the most challenging for me,” he says.
His passion for music has been his guiding light and has shown him the way to meet that challenge. It helped him through some very difficult times when he was young and gave him solace and a sense of direction.
It was also invaluable in helping him tackle his autism.
“I used to make a lot of noise when I was little. I realised I was mentally different from other people,” says Jack.
The first musical spark ignited when Jack tried out the glockenspiel at his grandfather’s house. A new world began to open up for him.
“I started tinkling on the piano at home,” says Jack. “I was 14 months old.” “I chose the piano for myself because it was a more hands-on instrument.”
“For the first five years of my life, I taught myself. At the age of six, I started piano lessons.”
Jack began to sing when he was two years old. In fact, he sang before he could talk. His parents were struck by the quality of his voice, even at that age.
They soon realised that Jack had a rare musical gift and were awarded funding for Jack’s musical tuition.
When he was five years old, aided by his music therapy, he found he had perfect pitch. If you spend time with him today, he tells you he can identify the notes of a song, a stranger’s whistle or the beep of a pelican crossing. He is always right.
By the age of six, he had started formal music lessons and began studying for his Grade 1 piano exam.
At the age of 10, he started reading Braille music and learning classical piano. By the age of 17, he had passed all piano exam grades from 1 to 8.
Throughout that time, live performance had always been close to his heart. “I love performing,” he tells me. “I love to interact with people.”
“When I was 10, I performed at the Live Arts Musical Festival and received a medal for my performance of ‘Memory’ from ‘Cats’,” he says.
In 2019 he performed with his band The Scroles at the Black Box Theatre in Walsall.
He has always been utterly determined to make connections with other musicians, through open mic nights, concerts and jamming sessions.
“My ambition is to perform as much as I can, to meet as many new musicians as possible and to inspire others.”
Inspirational he is, but it hasn’t been easy for him.
He has had to learn many coping strategies and techniques from specialist teachers and therapists but it was his mother Jane who has been the most supportive in “talking me round the barriers” of autism.
The many hours Jack spent improving his musical skills were invaluable in helping him “break that barrier”.
“We used to discuss the different options for tackling the problems I faced.” “My mum would think of different methods to help me as a visually impaired person; she listened to me and never stopped encouraging me to play.”
Jack can now adapt to change more easily.
“I feel I am more aware of my autism and have more control over it,” he says.
Jack is softly-spoken, but there is no mistaking his intensity and his resilience. He refuses to let anything stand in the way of his goals.
“I’m trying to be as independent as I possibly can,” he says.
This striving for independence has won him a place at the University of Wolverhampton, where he is fully engaged in a 4 year BMus/(Hons) course on ‘Popular Music’. He can rely on a dedicated team of carers who support him, when he needs it, both at university and at home in Shrewsbury.
The course includes a module on ‘Songwriting and Composition’. He has written many original songs and tells me, “I think of the melody and then play it on the piano before writing the lyrics. I always dream about the next song I want to write.”
When a song is finished, Jack posts it on the YouTube channel his sister Sophie helped him to set up in 2013: Jack Mockett Music. It currently has more than 500 subscribers.
The lockdowns imposed during the pandemic have been especially difficult for Jack.
“I still posted videos. But lockdown affected me both socially and emotionally.” “It left me isolated.” He found it difficult to adapt to the change of routine when the university closed and his independence was taken away before the first lockdown in March 2020.
He was able to make music other musicians via FaceTime with other musicians, but it was difficult as the technology is unreliable and simply not the same as live collaboration.
The future is looking more positive now. He will be returning to the University of Wolverhampton’s Walsall Campus in the autumn to complete the final year of his course. Before then, he is due to play live at a private function next month. It is the first time he will have played live since the summer of 2019. He simply cannot wait. “I am absolutely determined to get out there and perform again,” he says. “I miss the interaction with the audience so much.”